SCRANTON, Pa. – The University of Scranton men's basketball team (1-0) shot 53.6% (15-of-28) from the field in the second half and erased a five point halftime deficit en route to a 77-69 win over the Houghton College Highlanders (0-2) in the first round of the Hilton Scranton Invitational on Friday evening at the John Long Center in Scranton.
The Royals took the lead for good on a three-point play from freshman EJ Matthews-Spratley (Cherry Hill, N.J./Cherry Hill East) with 14:56 to play in the second half and were able to hold on from there. Matthews-Spratley registered a steal, hit the fast break layup and converted the free throw.
With the victory, Scranton advances to play Manhattanville in the Hilton Scranton Invitational Championship game on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. The Valiants defeated York (Pa.) by a score of 74-70 in Friday's second game.
Houghton was strong out of the gates in this one and led 15-8 before graduate student Jackson Danzig* (Clarks Green, Pa./Abington Heights) hit a layup to ignite a 10-0 run for the Royals capped by a pair of free throws from junior Tahaj Parland (Neptune, N.J./Mater Dei) that made it 18-15 with 9:10 left in the first half. After senior Stephen Braunstein* (Colts Neck, N.J./Christian Brothers Academy) hit a jumper in the final two minutes of the opening stanza for a 32-29 Scranton lead, the Highlanders responded with an 11-3 run to close the half and a late three by John Rivera Jr. made it 40-35 in favor of the visitors at the half.
The Highlanders' Esafe Taufahema hit consecutive layups in the early stages of the second half to stretch the Houghton lead to eight at 50-42 with 16:50 remaining, but Danzig sank consecutive baskets of his own on the other end to kickstart a 17-0 run for the Royals and Matthews-Spratley hit a layup with 11:40 left to give the hosts a 59-50 lead. Houghton would not go quietly however and battled back to cut the lead to two at 61-59 with 6:42 to play before Braunstein hit a pair of free throws to stretch the lead back to four. From there, the Highlanders once again battled back within two at 68-66 at the 2:43 mark and this time, it was Parland who sank a pair of free throws and scored six of the final nine points for the Royals to seal the 77-69 win.
Braunstein led the way offensively for the Royals with 21 points and also added seven rebounds. A total of four players reached double figures as Danzig had 16, sophomore Will McLoughlin (Glen Rock, N.J./Glen Rock) added 14 and Parland chipped in with 12.
In their respective collegiate debuts, Matthews-Spratley tallied eight points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 17 minutes off the bench, while Jon Spatola (Marlboro, N.J./Marlboro) had four points, six assists, five rebounds and two thefts of his own.
Taufahema paced Houghton with 18 points and David Rosa added 16.
Scranton shot 45.3% (29-of-64) from the field and 15-of-22 (68.2%) from the charity stripe on the night and the Highlanders were 27-of-53 (50.9%) from the floor and 7-of-20 (35.0%) from three-point range while shooting 8-of-15 (53.3%) from the free throw line.
The Royals saw four different players hit one three apiece in the contest.